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Friday, May 31, 2013


Exceptionalism is atavistic. People who should know better, sophisticated postmodern intellectuals, love it.

It is also atavistic in its direct appeal to the ancestors.

It is not that I am particularly immune to this rhetoric. I just think it is advantageous to step outside it. I am not interested in developing my own version or refining the best existing version of it even further.


I propose another test: you might describe an exceptionalism without identifying it, pseudonymously. Then evaluate it. Only then, "lift the veil" to see what you have. In other words, you would have to evaluate it without knowing whether it is a progressive or Fascist form of cultural nationalism.


Anonymous said...

"It is unique because it is about family and cooking. It uses a minority language and it plays music, and it is festive and welcoming."

What culture am I describing, or, what culture fits this description?

Jonathan said...

Cajuns? but I'm guessing that partly because of who is asking the question.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's what it is said of Cajuns but look how non-unique the description is unless it is just presented as a contrast to mall culture.

Related - modern is considered good but old-fashioned is as well. These movements like to say they are both. The nouveau Cajun movement says so. Oswald de Andrade said so or made fun of people who said so.

Jonathan said...

Yes. I'm trying to argue that exceptionalism is a discourse of modernity, even when it appeals to the past / the primitive, etc... I'm finding this true constantly. It makes sense when you think about it. Those kind of appeals only make sense in relation to modernity itself, if only the modernity of mall culture.

Anonymous said...

One of the topics that came up in my culture course in the spring was the fact that in malls you can now buy "authentic" and allegedly fair trade folk art that is both handmade and mass produced, and that it is marketed as something that can heal the alienation you feel in late capitalist modernity.

Jonathan said...

I've seen stores like that, but not in malls. I need to buy a jar of anti-capitalist hand salve for my alienation.